We all know about the idols that people physically bow down to and worship. Golden statues that people pray to and feel comfort from and receive blessings from. These are just one type of idol. But how about all the idols you have? You say you don’t have any figurines on your mantel though, you don’t pray to anything, you don’t burn incense in hopes to have good fortune. But how about all the other idols that are around us? There are so many of them, and even without our knowing it, a spectator may easily be able to say just as Exodus 20 does, “They are becoming like these idols they are surrounded by.”

How do we define an idol? Something is an idol if it receives more of your worship than God does. It takes the place of God, it competes with our time with God and they are more often than not just bloated good things. When we say yes to what the world offers and no to God; that is an idol. When you believe that someone/thing did something for us when it was really God who did it; that is an idol. Likewise, when you say yes to Jesus, you’re saying no to the pretenders.

Idols are so much more than physical statues that people bow down to, they are all around us and they seek to take the position of God in our lives. However, we read in Colossians 1:15-23 about God’s supremacy. Everything is made for God, and by God. We can not take these huge definitions of God and just tag them on to something else. God says to us in Exodus, ‘you shall have no other God’s before me.’

How do we hear the voices of idols? They are found in our head, through those around us, and through various other inputs in our everyday lives. An example would be the narrow view of what beauty is, determined by the magazines issued to our world. The magazines will tell us what beauty is and whether we fit the category or not and where we are ranked. These depictions of beauty say to us, ‘We own you. We will rate you. We will tell you your worth.’ As soon as we allow a magazine to do this and we listen to it, it becomes an idol.

Not only do idols tell us something that is contrary to God’s teaching, but the benefits that they offer us are temporary. Idols tell you your value, they measure you, but God loves everyone, and values each person equally. Idols tell you to use your power to fuel you passions/pleasures, but God gives you power and defines its limits. Idols tell you that pleasure is found in seduction and if something feels good then don’t stop, but God gives us proper mixtures for all our pleasures and tells us not to tamper with the mixture.

Taking the example of the magazine, only God is loving and wise enough to define the value of humans. When you insert someone or something else in to replace this position then you have an idol. You may not like the thought of that, but just as much as the voice of people affects us, so our voices affect others. We have the power to create idols for others by putting value on them, but we must be strong enough to fight that temptation and declare that we will not sit alongside all the idols on the mantel that are trying to put value on others.
So what idols put value on us and how? Money, peers, physique, clothing, association, intelligence and media. They all attempt to put value on who we are and how we compare to others by ranking our economic and social status.

Right from Genesis, humans have had this desire for power. In response to this desire, idols tell us who has control over us, and who we have control over. Maybe you can relate to one of these three: a victim using power to control others by acting more helpless than they really are; a persecutor using power to control others by bullying them, withdrawing power from them and placing value on them; or a rescuer using power to control others by smothering them with love and sympathy. God tells us who can have what amount of control and power over other people. As soon as we take advantage of that power and use it for self-gain, it is not glorifying to God and therefore is an idol.
Similar to the idols that place value on us, the idols that tell us what power we have, including physique and intelligence, by using our superiority over others to control them and there actions. Another idol may be the voices telling us about the false power that a certain race or gender may have over another.

When we talk about idols that use pleasure to lead us away from God’s direction, it’s not too hard to think of relevant examples. How can a pleasurable thing become an idol? First, if it consumes all your time and you can’t go without it, it is an idol. If you can’t leave it without still knowing that you’re loved by God and that He is the fill for the void you are trying to fill with this pleasure, then it is an idol. Likewise, if there is a pleasure that you’re able to give up and miss, but know that you don’t need it, then it isn’t an idol to you.
But there is more to it than that. Maybe you’ve dealt with a lot of heartache, sufferings and struggles in your life. Maybe the pleasure you seek isn’t to fill a void or make you feel really good, but it’s just less pain. Some may say, “I know God loves me, but that just isn’t what I want to hear right now.” Take the pleasure of drugs for example; they make you forget, they can free you from the pain inside.
God’s given us pleasurable things in this world to enjoy, and He tells us to be creative with them, but not to mess with their purpose or mixture. Idols tell us that they have the authority to rewrite the formula of these pleasures. God’s given us a mixture for sex with faithfulness, but idols tell us to play with sex by mixing it outside of wedlock and faithfulness.
So what idols encourage pleasure by means outside of God’s intent? Videogames, movies and music can distract us and teach us false morals and beliefs. Sex is a pleasure that God’s given us but when taken outside of wedlock it can become a dangerous idol. The visual stimuli of nudity, the thoughts in our heads, our desire for intimacy, and the physical stimuli with others can all be stemmed from God’s good intentions of pleasure with which we take advantage of and abuse. Relationships with friends, girlfriends and boyfriends can become idols when we can’t be without them. If we need them, find our identity in them, or seek constant approval or acceptance from them, then that relationship has become an idol. Even our hobbies and skills can become idols. If you become so addicted to hockey, guitar or coffee that you can’t give it up or if you find your identity in it rather than in your relationship with God, than it has become an idol.

So, how do we cipher through what is God’s voice and the voice of idols? How do you know if it’s God telling you to stop investing so much time in a friendship because He wants more of your time, or an idol telling you that you don’t deserve such a good, healthy friendship, that all you deserve to be alone. How can you tell if it is God giving you talents and Him wanting you to use them as best you can, or if it’s an idol telling you to be the best you can be and work as hard you can to always be at the top of your game?

The following are a few easy ways to tell whose voice it is that you’re listening to:
-Through prayer and biblical knowledge; you should be able to find the answers to your questions and be able to tell what is God’s voice verses an idol’s
-Through community accountability; you should have close friends that you can trust to tell you to smarten up when you need to
-By trying to give it up; you should be able to give it up. You can miss it, but know that you don’t need it
-By asking yourself; if you are too afraid to hear the answers to your questions of whether something is an idol or not, then there is a good chance that it is an idol. If you can’t even ask yourself the questions, then you really need to work out some things

Idols are all around us, and Satan will always use them to try to lead us farther off the track to a healthy relationship with God that is glorifying to Him. What idols are in your life right now, and how will you eliminate them? Sharing your struggles with God is a great place to start. Go ahead; see how He will teach you what it means to take down the idols on your mantel.

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